School district to make up snow day on King holiday

Thursday, December 12, 2002

CHESTERFIELD, Va. -- Students in a Richmond suburb will make up a snow day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, prompting protests from the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Chesterfield County School Superintendent Billy K. Cannaday Jr., who is black, announced the decision this week. He said rigorous new state graduation requirements make it necessary for the schools to make up snow days before testing periods begin in the spring. King Day, a federal and state holiday that falls on Jan. 20, was the first available date after the Christmas vacation.

"It reinforces for me, as an African-American, Dr. King's strong belief in education as an equalizer," Cannaday said Tuesday.

King Salim Khalfani, state director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the decision "shortsighted and insensitive."

Khalfani said Cannaday needs to "reclaim his heritage and learn something from all of this."

"To totally dismiss (the holiday) for a snow day and say that Dr. King was a supporter of education makes a mockery of King," he said.

Twenty-four percent of the county's nearly 54,000 students are black, according to Chesterfield Schools spokeswoman Debra Marlow. She said she had not received any complaints from parents angry about the cancellation of the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.

"There are people who have ski trip plans," she said. "It's a holiday, so it wouldn't be any one segment who might complain. This is the decision we needed to make to make up instructional time.

Chesterfield has been the site of other racial controversies.

The county's Board of Supervisors was divided in 2000 and 2001 over whether to name April as Confederate History and Heritage Month. The measure passed earlier this year.

In September, a Chesterfield library was selected by the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist group, to host a meeting of its supporters. The group attracted only a few supporters, but hundreds protested.

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